The emergence of global warming as a significant poverty and security issue is forcing governments and institutions world-wide to support the development of technologies with low greenhouse gas emissions. More than a decade ago, the GEF recommended high-temperature solar thermal power as one of the renewable energy technologies with significant cost-reduction potential. Concentrating solar power (CSP) was viewed as the most cost-effective option to convert solar radiation into bulk electricity. Four solar thermal projects, with a combined value of $194 million, were subsequently initiated by the GEF in Morocco, Egypt, India and Mexico. The GRA consortium was commissioned to conduct an independent review of the World Bank/GEF strategy for the market development of CSP.
According to CSIR project leader Stefan Szewczuk, the team conducted an extensive literature review of bulk solar thermal electricity generation projects and studied technology development and implementation to understand the barriers to uptake of this technology. "We used the 'learning curve' concept, where research, development and demonstration (RD&D) precede commercial development," Szewczuk explains. "The transition from the RD&D phase to the commercial development phase is crucial and the difficulties associated with this transition need to be understood fully for technology transfer to succeed."
Szewczuk, who has a particular interest in technology transfer in developing countries, conducted the assessment of the Egypt Solar Thermal Hybrid Project in Kuraymat, Egypt. "An interesting finding of that particular study was the strong similarities that emerged between the Egyptian and South African approaches to technology transfer, with both countries seeing the development of local capacity as a crucial requirement for successful project implementation," he says.
Despite the fact that solar thermal electricity offers a number of advantages when considered as part of the mix of a country's energy generation options, the assessment revealed that turnkey contractors in developing countries have been hesitant in bidding for projects. "There is no doubt that the technology works, and most of the required technology elements are essentially in place already," Szewczuk comments. "We found, however, that complexities around the structuring of finance to spread the risk, combined with risks being passed onto contractors through the tender process, have resulted in limited uptake of the technology."
The final assessment report concludes that the benefits of a successful solar thermal electricity generation industry - particularly for developing countries - are significant, and that the technology is worthy of continued support by the World Bank. "The major issue still outstanding is the need for cost reduction. This study concludes that there is no fundamental reason why the technology could not follow a similar cost-reduction curve to wind energy, and eventually be cost-competitive," the report states.
Nevada Solar One - a 50 MW solar thermal parabolic trough currently under construction in Nevada, USA.
Close-up view of solar thermal parabolic trough receivers.
CSIR project leader Steve Szewczuk